A Quick Guide to Fashion Trends by Decade

There has been an incredible resurgence of vintage fashion trends in recent times. 70s-style flared trousers are seeing a comeback. Sweater-vests of the 30s dominate social media. The high-waisted “mom” jeans of the 80s are a staple once more. Even versions of the puffed sleeves of the late 1800s have been reappearing! What is the reason for this cycle of nostalgia? The answer is simple: escapism. With that said, let’s escape to the past, and take a look at the most popular fashion trends in each decade of the 20th century.


The clothes from these decades are slightly unwearable for everyday. But who knows; soon we could be seeing hobble skirts and bustles of the 1900s again, or maybe the wide-brimmed hats and lampshade tunic of the 1910s.


The flapper dress of this decade is instantly recognizable, with its drop waist and androynous silhouette. Fringe and beading were often incorporated, which would accentuate movement when dancing. Men’s suits evolved into lighter colours and fabrics. The 20s were a time of post-WW1 liberation, and this was reflected in the sprightly style of the clothing.


This was the Golden Age of Hollywood. For the wealthy, silk, velvet and chiffon evening gowns, often accompanied with a fur stole, were the height of glamour. Everyday suits had shoulder pads, thinner waistlines, and were once again in darker fabrics. A subdued era, but an elegant one nonetheless.


Boiler suits were adopted by women as they began to take on factory jobs in the midst of WW2. This suit was immortalised by Rosie the Riveter in the iconic poster with the slogan, “We Can Do It!”  Also, in this decade, almost all materials went towards the war effort, not towards fashion. Thus, men’s suits were minimalised and stripped of unnecessary fabric, making their silhouettes much flatter.


Christian Dior’s “New Look” was dedicated to making women feel feminine again after WW2. Dresses of this style had a cinched waistline with a voluminous skirt. In the earlier seasons of Mad Men, Betty Draper’s wardrobe exemplifies this style (in fact, Mad Men in itself is a masterclass in 60s fashion). For men, leather jackets were popularised by figures like Marlon Brando and James Dean.


Another decade of growing liberation, the 60s saw a rise in hemlines for women as the miniskirt grew in popularity. The babydoll dress incorporated this style, often seen on models like Twiggy. The Beatles were the basis for men’s fashions: simple suits to tight turtlenecks were staples. The circular glasses of John Lennon were also immensely popular.


The bell bottoms of the 70s are seeing a comeback in 2021. These iconic trousers were popular with both men and women, and were a necessity of the disco craze of the era. Platform heels were another widely worn item.


Scrunchies are another item of clothing that are becoming popular once again. Leggings and other athletic wear were also popular in the 80s for women. Men’s blazers incorporated shoulder pads, constructing the over-sized, bulky silhouette of the era.


An era with trends constantly recirculating in the 2020s, the slinky, thin-strapped dress was a staple of the 90s. In addition, plaid sets reminiscent of Clueless were also very popular. Dungarees, branded sportswear and sheer dresses are just a few more examples of trends of this decade.


In the times we live in, we could all use a little bit of an escape. By diving into the world of vintage fashion, we can do just that! The process of tracking down hidden gems in vintage shops, as well as simply wearing the clothes, could be a lovely distraction from the problems of the modern world. Transport yourself to another time. Invest in some 70s flares, a 50s leather jacket, any kind of 90s style clothing, or anything else you like! You can find vintage clothes in charity shops, vintage stores, Depop or other reselling apps, and in the Sunflower Vintage and Rework collection.



About the author

Jessica Wilkinson

Jess is a undergraduate student studying English at the University of York. She has a passion for Vintage style, Sustainable Fashion and loves to write. 


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin